A Dark Chapter from New Zealand History
Population in 1868—Rumors—Biggs at Whareongaonga—Gone to the Bush—Treachery—Paparatu—the Guide—Whitmore—Furioso—a Soldier's Grave—Contradictory Orders—Tangata Kai at Puketapu.
At the beginning of 1868, the inhabitants of Poverty Bay numbered about 450 natives and 200 Europeans. Most of the natives were Hauhaus of 1865, who had become once more exceedingly disaffected, owing to the non-solution of the land question. It appears probable that they were aware of the intended escape from the Chathams before that event occurred.
On the 9th July, 1868, it was rumoured in Poverty Bay that the prisoners bad escaped, and were at Whareongaonga. The rumour was disbelieved. It was afterwards ascertained that a Taranaki chief, one of the prisoners, proposed, on the night of the landing, to march at once on Poverty Bay, and murder the European population; but was overruled. On the 11th, Major Biggs received a letter from Mr. Johnston, a runholder near Whareongaango, stating 49 armed men had passed his house, but that he had been unable to ascertain their intentions. Next day, Major Biggs called at Johnston's, on his way to Wairoa, and heard sufficient to prove the prisoners were really at Whareongaonga. He at once returned, and mustered what men he could on such short notice— 120, of whom 40 were Europeans. With these he arrived at a spot within half-a-mile of Whareongaonga, at 10 a.m. July 13th.
Major Biggs found the prisoners camped in a hollow fronted by the sea, and backed by a semicircle of steep cliffs. By surmounting those cliffs and crossing a ridge, the prisoners could plunge into an almost impenetrable bush country, extending inland for about 20 miles. Major Biggs at once despatched a message demanding the surrender of the prisoners, who ridiculed the idea. They, however, said they had no wish to fight if left alone, and allowed to re-occupy Poverty Bay. All the prisoners were found to be well armed. As there was no reserve force in case of defeat, Major Biggs decided not to attack them whilst the prisoners were so nigh the settled district, but to wait in the vicinity and observe their movements. Messengers were also despatched to Wairoa and Napier.page 15
On the night of the 13th, the ex-prisoners, fearing the arrival of reinforcements, crossed the coast range, and got into the bush unperceived, upon which Major Biggs decided to make a detour, after enrolling every available man, and intercept the ex-prisoners as they emerged from the bush inland. All the Europeans but the very aged, and at the most four or five others, volunteered at a few hours' notice. About 150 professedly loyal natives were armed and ordered to pursue the retreating enemy. The Europeans numbered 65 at starting, and were but badly armed. They were mostly mounted.
On the 16th, the Europeans started for a point inland, distant about 30 miles. The route lay over a very rough country. On the 18th, they were lying in wait for the ex-prisoners at Paparatu, where they were expected to emerge from the bush. On the evening of the 18th, it was known our doubtful allies had treacherously abandoned the pursuit. Some of them had seen Te Kooti and accepted presents.
On the 20th, Major Biggs being absent, with the view of inducing the native deserters to resume duty, the Europeans were attacked by Te Kooti, who had been somewhat reinforced by quondam Hauhaus of 1865. At sundown the whites were defeated, with the loss of seven killed and wounded. The Europeans had expended all but a few rounds of their ammunition, and but for night must have been cut off. The enemy stormed the European camp, and captured horses, food, in fact everything but the men and their arms. The Europeans retreated all night through a fearful country, with their wounded, and pursued by the enemy. Their escape is due to the fidelity of Henare Kakapanga, a brave chief of Turanga, and universally esteemed by the whites.
On the 20th, Colonel Whitmore assumed command in Poverty Bay. He had volunteered his services, and they had been accepted by his friend the Defence Minister, Colonel Haultain. Very little was known of Whitmore in Poverty Bay at the time of his first arrival. He brought with him considerable reinforcements, sufficient to have crushed Te Kooti, if well directed.
The first thing done by Colonel Whitmore, was to announce that he would capture Te Kooti in twenty-four hours; his next was to heap the foullest abuse upon every settler and native with whom he came in contact. Having thus paved the way for a great success, he proceeded to the front. In rather less than a month, page 16he had advanced about ten miles further inland than Biggs had done in two days. On the 8th August, he was beaten by Te Kooti at Ruakiture. Seeing some of his men fall, Colonel Whitmore retreated, leaving his wounded to the mercy of the enemy. He afterwards asserted they had been killed; but, subsequently, the bones of Captain Carr were found on a hill nigh half-a-mile from where he fell. He was a gentle, brave officer, much beloved, and had distinguished himself whilst serving in the Imperial Army; and it is sad to reflect that such a man should have survived, perhaps for days, to find himself helpless and deserted by his commanding officer.
Major Fraser and his men are said to have remained at Ruakiture fighting with Te Kooti for several hours after Whitmore's retreat from the field, and, it is believed, would have beaten and captured the enemy if he had been properly supported.
In the meantime, two expeditions started from the Wairoa to cooperate with Whitmore. Both failed; one through the cowardice of the natives, the other by reason of contradictory orders from Colonel Whitmore. Those expeditions were headed by Captain Richardson, a brave and able officer, who did good service in Mr. M'Lean's East Coast campaign of 1865.
Colonel Whitmore, in his after despatches, claimed to have driven "the enemy from his first position"—in short, he had won a victory. He also stated the enemy had "suffered severely." He should have said it was our side suffered severely: what the enemy suffered was impossible for him to tell, because he did not wait to see. Such misrepresentations can deceive no one who looks below the surface. At a later date, we find Colonel Whitmore, after he had been beaten in fair fight on the West Coast, and had left eleven wounded men to fall into Titokowaru's hands, stating that those men were "missing;" though it afterwards came out that nine of the eleven were taken into Tito's pa and cooked! Colonel Whitmore left Poverty Bay after his defeat, all the forces were withdrawn, and Te Kooti retired to Puketapu, about forty-five miles inland of Poverty Bay, having lost eight or nine men in the two engagements, and carried with him his accumulated plunder.